Tag Archives: mail coach

The problem with Thomas KINGHORN

30 Apr

Despite discovering more about Thomas KINGHORNs occupation as mail guard, I still have very little hard information about the man himself.

Thomas KINGHORN married Margaret SEWELL on the 5th May 1803 in St Cuthbert’s Church, Carlisle, Cumberland. They had six children, all baptised in St Cuthbert’s:

1. John KINGHORN (baptised 30 Oct 1803)
2. Mary KINGHORN (baptised 03 Aug 1806)
3. Thomas KINGHORN (baptised 13 Mar 1808)
4. Abraham KINGHORN (baptised 10 Jun 1810)
5. Elizabeth KINGHORN (baptised 19 Mar 1815)
6. George KINGHORN (baptised 11 May 1817)

In all the entries Thomas is shown as a mail guard. The entries for John, Mary and Thomas don’t show a residence, but the entries for Abraham, Elizabeth and George have the residence as Moffat (of North Britain) and Abraham’s entry states the parents are late of Carlisle.

On the 25th October 1808, Thomas was involved in a mail coach accident in which he was injured, “severely cut about the head”.

Thomas had died by the time his son Thomas was married (for the second time) in London in June 1850, as he is shown as deceased on the certificate. I have been unable to find him in the 1841 census and there doesn’t appear to be a death entry for him in the civil registration indexes, so he probably died before July 1837.

So not really a lot to go on, he was alive definitely alive between 1803 and 1817, he worked as a guard on the mail coach and had six children with his wife Margaret.

The key fact I would like to establish is where and when he died. This will hopefully give me a clue to his age and year of birth. Given his occupation, his death could have occurred almost anywhere in the country, and his place of birth may not have even been in the north but he may just have been working there and meet a local girl.

To try and find the man himself, I am going to have to make my next step to try and establish what happened to the rest of the family, I think I have found his wife in the 1841 census (back in Carlisle), which is a good start as I should be able to find her death certificate which may provide some clues, such as where to look for a burial record for both of them.

Why I am proud to say that Thomas KINGHORN was a mail guard

29 Apr

I appear to have been neglecting my Thomas KINGHORN research recently, I think the problem is that I have very little information to go on, there is very little I can do online and it is almost completely new territory to me.

I have however not been completely idle, I am in the middle of reading The Mail-Coach Men of the late Eighteenth Century1 which I have borrowed from my local library, although I think I am going to have to buy a copy for my own bookshelf.

There is some wonderful detail on the origins of the mail coach service, and the people involved in setting it up and running it. There is also some great general information on mail guards such as:

… the key-men were the mail-guards. Everything depended on their integrity, their loyalty, their tireless zeal in the discharge of their arduous duties, their hardihood of body as well as of mind.

There was also something else which might give me another place to search in the records:

The pay was 10s. 6d. a week; in addition, there were regular tips, seldom withheld by the public and not discouraged by the Post Office. There was provision for sick-benefit and retirement pension and a contribution of two guineas towards the funeral expenses of a guard.

I don’t think Thomas lived long enough to gain a retirement pension, but maybe his widow received some form of pension, and probably the two guineas towards his funeral.

It appears that the mail guard was not just responsible for the safety of the mail, but was in charge of pretty much every aspect of the operation:

He was responsible for giving the word to go, for the maintenance of speed, the conduct and sobriety of the coachman, and for taking action when breakdowns and other mishaps occurred.

On this final point the author also notes that:

It was part of his training to go through the shops of the factory at Millbank and carried a considerable kit of tools and spares to effect roadside repairs.

What I am seeing is a picture of a man who had to be resourceful, honest, reliable, strong, intelligent, courageous and loyal (amongst other things). It makes me proud to say that my 4x great grandfather was a mail guard.

1 Vale, Edmund. The Mail-Coach Men of the late Eighteenth Century. Newton Abbot, Devon: David & Charles (Publishers) Ltd, 1967

Thomas KINGHORN narrowly escapes with his life

15 Apr

I had one of those jaw dropping moments this afternoon, I was idly Googling Thomas KINGHORN (as you do) and one of the results a long way down the list was a link to a book published in 1885 entitled The Royal Mail: Its Curiosities and Romance (by James Wilson Hyde) within the Internet Archive.

Now I haven’t read the entire book yet (I don’t read that quick!), only the section relating to the incident in which Thomas KINGHORN was involved. It literally left me speechless when I read it, my 4x great grandfather involved in such a terrible accident and he lived to tell the tale!

The story is quite long, and well worth reading in full, so apologies for the length of this post (the details about Thomas KINGHORN are in bold at the end of the text):

On the night of Tuesday the 25th October 1808, the road between Carlisle and Glasgow was the scene of a catastrophe which will serve to illustrate in a striking degree one of the perils of the postal service in the mail-coach era. The place where the event now to be described occurred, lies between Beattock and Elvanfoot (about five miles from the latter place), where the highway crosses the Evan Water, a stream which takes its rise near the sources of the Clyde, but whose waters are carried southward into Dumfriesshire. To be more precise, the situation is between two places called Raecleuch and Howcleuch, on the Carlisle road; and a bridge which now spans the water, in lieu of a former bridge, retains by association, to this day, the name of the “Broken Bridge.”

It was at the breaking up of a severe storm of frost and snow, when the rivers were flooded to such an extent as had never been seen by the oldest people in the neighbourhood. The bridge had been but recently built; and though it was afterwards stated that the materials composing the mortar must have been of bad quality, no doubt would seem to have been entertained as to the security of the bridge. The night was dark, and accompanied by both wind and rain elements which frequently usher in a state of thaw. The mail-coach having passed the summit, was speeding along at a good round pace, the “outsiders” doubtless making themselves as comfortable as circumstances would allow, while the “insides,” as we might imagine, had composed themselves into some semblance of sleep, the time being between nine and ten o’clock, when, suddenly and without warning, the whole equipage – horses, coach, driver, guard, and passengers – on reaching the middle of the bridge, went headlong precipitate into the swollen stream through a chasm left by the collapse of the arch. It is by no means easy to realise what the thoughts would be of those concerned in this dreadful experience pitched into a roaring torrent, in a most lonely place, at a late hour on such a night. The actual results were, however, very serious.

The two leading horses were killed outright by the fall, while one of the wheelers was killed by a heavy stone descending upon it from the still impending portions of the wrecked structure. The coach and harness also were utterly destroyed. But, worse still, two outside passengers, one a Mr Lund, a partner in a London house, and the other named Brand, a merchant in Ecclefechan, were killed on the spot, while a lady and three gentlemen who were inside passengers miraculously escaped with their lives, though they were severely bruised. The lady, who had scrambled out of the vehicle, sought refuge on a rock in mid-stream, there remaining prisoner for a time; and by her means a second catastrophe of a similar kind was happily averted. The mail from Carlisle for Glasgow usually exchanged “Good-night” with the south-going coach, when they were running to time, just about the scene of the accident. Fortunately the coach from Carlisle was rather late; but when it did arrive, the lady on the rock, seeing the lights approach, screamed aloud, and thus warned the driver to draw up in time. Succour was now at hand.

Something ludicrous generally finds itself in company with whatever is of a tragic nature. The guard of the Carlisle coach was let down to the place where the lady was, by means of the reins taken from the horses. Hughie Campbell – that was the guard’s name – when deliberating upon the plan of rescue, had some delicacy as to how he should affix the reins to the person of the lady, and called up to those above, “Where will I grip her?” But before he could be otherwise advised, the lady, long enough already on the rock, broke in, “Grip me where you like, but grip me firm,” which observation at once removed Hughie’s difficulty, and set his scruples at ease. The driver of the wrecked coach, Alexander Cooper, was at first thought to have been carried away; but he was afterwards found caught between two stones in the river. He survived the accident only a few weeks – serious injuries to his back proving fatal. As for the guard, Thomas Kinghorn, he was severely cut about the head, but eventually recovered.

It was usual for the coachman and guard over this wild and exposed road to be strapped to their seats in stormy weather; but on this occasion Kinghorn, as it happened, was not strapped, and to this circumstance he attributed his escape from death. When the mail went down, he was sent flying over the bridge, and alighted clear from the wreck of the coach. The dead passengers and the wounded persons were taken by the other coach into Moffat.

It may be added that the fourth horse was got out of its predicament little the worse for the fall, and continued to run for many a day over the same road; but it was always observed to evince great nervousness and excitement whenever it approached the scene of the accident.

My mind is now full of questions and sources to check, my visit to Carlisle Record Office is probably now going to have to include a visit to “Broken Bridge”, and I am going to have to see what the British Postal Museum and Archives have on this accident.

Presumably this report is taken from newspaper accounts or was there an official report, either way I have to get my hands on them and try and find out more details. Are there any other accounts of the accident available? Has anyone else researched it in any depth? Always more questions than answers!

Blunderbuss fixation

4 Apr

The discovery that Thomas KINGHORN (4x great grandfather) was a mail coach guard and carried out his duties armed with two pistols and a blunderbuss has re-awakened a dormant fascination with the word BLUNDERBUSS.

It sparked a memory of a book I once read as a child, I am not sure of the title, but from what I can find it was probably The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer (the cover image looks familiar). One of the three robbers had a blunderbuss, but I don’t remember anything else about the story.

The word blunderbuss stuck in my mind, probably because I found it such an absurd word, especially for something so deadly. So imagine my delight when I found out that my ancestor actually handled one of these weapons, and may even have used it in anger.

The British Postal Museum and Archive have a couple of blunderbusses in their collection and more details on their Weapons page. I particularly like the quote:

In 1786, a highwayman attempted to hold up the mails and was shot dead on the spot. No further attempts at robberies were ever reportedly made on mail coaches.

I would be very surprised if that was in fact true, but a blunderbuss would certainly have been a good deterrent.


Thomas KINGHORN: mail coach guard

2 Apr

I was quite excited by the discovery that my 4x great grandfather Thomas KINGHORN’s occupation was the of a guard on a mail coach, this is certainly the most exotic occupation I have come across in my research.

The truth is that I know very little about Thomas KINGHORN aside from the fact he was a mail coach guard. He married (by licence) Margaret SEWELL on the 5th May 1803 in Carlisle, Cumberland, England and they had six children (all baptised in Carlisle) of which Thomas (my 3x great grandfather) is the only one I have researched so far.

The family appear to have lived across the border in Moffat for a few years, but still came back to Carlisle to have their children baptised. Thomas had died before 1850, and it looks to me like he died before the 1841 census (although the fact that I haven’t found it is not conclusive). I think I have found his wife living on her own in Carlisle in 1841 (in King Street, Botchergate, Carlisle).

I once visited Carlisle, about ten years ago, and didn’t think much of it at the time, admittedly I probably spent less than two hours there, waiting for a train connection. Now I find myself wanting to go back and have another look around, and a visit to the record office.

Thomas and Margaret KINGHORN have now officially become my third main project, and there are so many questions to be answered apart from the obvious: who were their parents? Hopefully of the coming months I can answer some of them.

I made a start today (well actually a couple of days ago when I requested it) by borrowing a book from my local library entitled “The Mail-Coach Men of the Late Eighteenth Century” by Edmund Vale. I have already learnt that Moffat was on the route between Carlisle and Glasgow, and that the London to Carlisle mail coach took 50 hours to cover 309 miles!

Aside from going to Carlisle at some stage, there are also the resources of the British Postal Museum and Archive that may hold some clues to his life. I am especially delighted by the thought that he was armed with a blunderbuss (and two pistols). I have always liked the word ‘blunderbuss’ since I was a small boy and read it in a children’s book. Now I have an excuse to use the word more often!

My brain is buzzing with the excitement of a new challenge, I have so much to read, searches to do, information to compile and a visit to Carlisle to plan, I can’t wait to get started…

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